• Published 23rd Feb 2013
  • 3,229 Views, 242 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Second Wind - TinkerChromewire



In this FoE Sidestory, a veteran of war returns to the harsh realities of the wastelands from beyond the grave. Discovering the hardships of New Equestria and its terrors, he seeks to find a place in a world that moved on without him.

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Chapter 14: Spilled Milk

Google Docs Link

“Spilled Milk”

You shouldn’t cry over it...


O’ Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! Dear father!

The arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.


Party hats and party-blowers, noisemakers and party-poppers; what lay behind me was a party fit for the lunacy befitting the curly pink-maned pony I could scarcely remember. All the robots back in that lot, at one point firing lasers, now had been repurposed to celebrate a party--complete with all the regalia of old. PNK-3 had rather easily reset the robots and installed a ‘party function’, causing the machines to enter a jubilant state of singing and playing loud music at which point party favors were produced. I left that misnomer of informal attendance swiftly behind in case the spritebot sought to crown me with a cheap, bedazzled, plastic tiara.


“I’m sure once the others hear this AWESOME party is going on they’ll rush in to help you! Just give them about fifteen minutes travel time, give or take half a tickle-tock!” PNK-3 was permanently optimistic, seeing the glass as half full no matter the circumstance. If the glass was filled with mud she’d more than likely declare that “It COULD be chocolate milk!” Oh, and I could be the queen of dairy products, Pinkie! “That’s udderly ridiculous, Steelgraft!” -- Yeah, mooooving on now.


Before I could make myself scarce, the pink robot thrust upon me a pie, double latticed and still steaming with the rich scent of apples. Standing there dumbfounded, the tin clinked against my horn as PNK-3 insisted it upon me. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this!” She stated, proffering upon me the pie and a bedazzled tiara. What the Tartarus was a pie going to do for me?


“I am not taking a pie into a bossfight,” I stated defiantly.


“But you can’t go to a party without bringing something! That’s just rude!” Which was just like me, I wagered. Still, as I tried to leave, she situated the pie in front of my face, wafting the nostalgia inspiring scent up to my nostrils. “Come on, it’ll come in handy! It’s BURSTING with flavor!”


“Fine,” said I in the most resolutely disgruntled fashion I could muster. “What’s the tiara for?” I immediately found regret for asking such a stupid question.


“It’ll look fabulous on you!” She chimed.


“It’s pink,” I observed. “Pink isn’t really my color.”


“Pink is everypony’s color, silly willy!” She gave a scoff, as if what I said was a gross, disgusting lie. “I can only think of a few things more fun than the color pink!”


“And I’m not one of them,” I muttered, absconding with her pie, now nestled firmly in my inventory. Somehow.


“You, unfun? Oh, come on, you know how to utilize hammerspace! That’s comical fun 101!” I stared at her as if she was crazy. “Where else would you store a pie?”


“In my pocket,” stated I. Obviously.


“Wow, you aren’t much without your muchness!” PNK-3 digressed, donning the bedazzled tiara with a giggle. That’s PNK-3 for you, so random, so...Pink. It was as if someone supplanted Pinkie Pie into a robot and told it to follow me around as some eternal punishment for a crime. Puppy kicking, again, maybe?


As refreshing as her unfettering positivity was, I felt it had no place in this world, and I knew that shouldn’t be the case. The Equestrian in me remembered some good times, where the reason for a party could just be to party. PNK-3 was programmed to remember that time, to help the past survive--She was a part of Equestria, its history and proof of its greatness and ingenuity. All that positive energy built up around half-remembered smiles came crashing down about my ears at the entrance of Tartarus’s kitchenette. The smelting facility was not likened to what was expected, like everything in this dark twist of the life I once claimed to know.


Serene, soft music filled the air along with the pungent aroma of machine oil and rancid meats. Tantalizing, the aroma danced on my tongue, making me salivate, something that prior I thought I was unable to do. I really needed therapy; Cannibalism was not part of a balanced, healthy, vegetarian diet.


This was a smelting facility, plain and simple, a decrepit industrial complex masquerading as something it could never be, a five star restaurant. Hickish and roughshod, the interior of the Baker Barbarian’s main hovel was a place no sane pony would call for reservations nor grant good review. This was a kitchen nightmare; the service was lethargic, neigh, nonexistent; the tacky, grotesque design clashed; the drink menu was limited to the flat, half empty bottles of Sparkle Cola littering the table; and worst of all, the table was covered in corpses. Cooked, dressed, and meticulously prepared corpses, but still CORPSES. All that I could forgive, all of it, if there wasn’t a live rat scurrying about, soiling all the plates. For as kill happy the raiders around here were, you’d think a rat would be a rabies-filled balloon in a pit of psychopathic sea-urchins.


Oh, and there, beneath my very hooves, a giant red carpet had been rolled out to greet me; Steelgraft: 2 Headcase: 5. He was still beating me, since he’d been right on most every other occasion. I was correct on two accounts thus far, leaving Headcase to scoff dismissively; “Even broken clocks are right twice a day...” Somepony sounds like he hates being wrong.


“But what if the clock’s hands are missing? Technically, it’s broken and can’t be right!” Victory was mine today, jarhead!


“Ugh, fine, your verbal whip is countenance to your unctuous charm.” He digressed me my point before making his own, “Just remember, you only need proof that Muffincake is dead. Chances are, judging by past results and current lack of aggressive response, I conclude the Warlord is likely dead already. Just take a trophy off of him and get out before you get embroiled in a less than genteel dialog. I think his head would be most satisfactory.”


“You want me to lop his head off? Now that’s just unsane-itary. ” I could hear an audience groan, and not just Headcase. The abjectly miserable captives with their cramped cages dangling over vats of boiling machine grease was an occasional source of sound, mostly blotted out by the music. They were too damn quiet for my liking, either they were beaten and hopeless or they were entranced by the song tickling my ears. We had to get them out of there somehow.


“Stop with the puns already,” my mind begged of me. Silly brain, you’re just along for the ride. Let. Me. Off. Oh, you can go anytime you’re ready!


Another point to Headcase (6); he was right. Dangling over the center of the table was the ugliest chandelier ever conceived, making generous use of the fat blob formerly known as Muffincake. His crispy body dripped with natural oils, saturating the table in gravy.


“Now that’s a lot of calories,” I said to myself, making both the voices in my head and Headcase groan in tandem. A chimed tone demanded my attention, blanketing my vision with an obtrusive update. Intel streamed down a swift list, goals assessed and checked off via an automated system.


Mission Complete: Baking Bad
Optional Mission, From Cradle To Grave: Unresolved.


Closing the screens prompted me to wonder who bothered naming my missions, Headcase was suspect. Cradle Robber, he jumped to mind, he had to be here, leering at me from the shadows...Also, where the buck was the music coming from?


“Observant as always,” Cradle Robber’s voice danced up my spine, raising a needling sensation. My EFS picked him up as two red blips, at the far end of the table. In plain sight, backlit by the furnace and caressed by the crepuscular lighting of crooked banquet candles loomed a beast, hardly dwarfed by the massive furnace just behind him. A mash between a minotaur and pony, the cybernetic meat freak had me wondering how I glazed over him in the first place. PP-012 was emblazoned on the minotaur’s forehead, identifying him as one of the Pony Prometheus models, part of the first elite line that supposedly started with members of my crew and flight team. Huge hands on massive pistons sat at the end of grotesquely modified forearms, thick as tree stumps, bolted to a housing fed by rubber hoses leading to a large pressure canister on his back. His visage was wreathed by the open kitchen behind him, arranged about the furnace were the chopping blocks and cluttery used to prepare the meals, everything was likely cooked in the furnace. Most novel of all, they used the bar molds for ingots to make pastries and bread.


Note to self: Pay better attention to HUD displays.


“You’ve finally arrived,” Spoke the vicious upper head to the conjoined duo. My attention was brought to the torso stitched between the minotaur’s shoulders; like an unnecessary add-on, slapped on post-production. He was the spoiler to the horse-drawn carriage. Coated in a black rubber suit, the stitched little tumor of a half-stallion was painfully ordinary, the number emblazoned on his chest: PP-011. “Why don’t you take a seat?” His voice plethoric with sarcastic tones, false kindness brooding under a desultory smile.


I glanced to the chair nearest to me and furthest from him. A tiny, embroidered, paper plaque read; ‘Captain’. “I’d rather stand.” I muttered snarkily, my voice echoing in the warehouse. “I won’t be staying for dinner, but I might have time to kick your...” Don’t say ass, he doesn’t have one! “...Dick.” Does it look like he has a dick, moron? “I mean, beat you up. To death. Yes, I’m going to beat you up ‘til you die.” Yep, you still got it, old boy.


Cradle Robber cupped a hoof to his chin, his glowing green orbs roaming the room as he tutted, shaking his head, “Oh Captain, my Captain, as inconsiderate as ever. An hour late and you greet me with threats? Organ Grinder, play something soft, lighten the mood.” He turned himself sideways, gesturing to the stage on our left, upon it were chained musicians and another cyberghoul. A third red dot filled my EFS, joining the multitudes of yellow, non-hostile dots.


How the hell did I miss seeing that?! “A Perception Score of 4, nimrod.” You know, I might be near-sighted. “No, not near-sighted, you’re just horribly unobservant!”


As with most Deadmare, he was fitted with something mundane made horror, in his case, he was a walking gramophone. Organ Pipes jutted from his body, and the horn of the gramophone resembled a flower blooming in a pile of weeds. This smooth, if somewhat atypically dressed creature in Canterlot dress looked more avant garde than warrior, and I was about to write him off as just some macabre flunkie until Headcase gasped. Maybe he was a huge fan of Clair de Luna, which the maestro played on his gramophone, leaving his chain-ganged musicians to stand in reserve.


“Three Gravelords?” Headcase said to me, his tone worried. “That’s PP-010, the funeral musician; Organ Grinder! Steelgraft, you’re in over your head. I’ve captured video and screencaps of Muffincake’s dead body; That’ll be adequate proof for the Mechanic to vouch for mission success. Abscond from the mission premises!” During his rambling, Organ Grinder eased from a piano-solo to full concerto, leading the captives into a haunting hymn of slow, wordless chorus. Everypony was singing, the musicians and the caged ponies that were previously silent in their cages. Yeah, that’s not the least bit creepy.


Time to leave.


“Would you look at the time,” said I, pretending to look at a wristwatch I clearly didn’t have. “Raincheck on that ass-kicking. I’ve got...A thing! Obligations. Gotta go pay your mother for that wonderful evening last weekend,” I stepped back from the table, not wanting him in my life. Sure, I wanted to kill Cradle Robber, but that was before I knew he was only the tip to the hirsute henchman iceberg. “It was fun, you know, the party...But I hear my common sense calling...And your mom.” Maybe he was more of a wart, or a mushroom on a treestump...


Belaying further action, the door behind me slammed shut with force, the latch locking with a series of wretched clicks. I wasn’t going out the way I came, not now, and any avenue of quick escape was closed up. Massive hole in the wall? Blocked with a large scrap dumpster. Open window over the walkway? The stairs to ascend the walkway were weighing down the aforementioned dumpster as scrap. Okay, so my odds were bad, three on one...Or was it two and a half on one? I couldn’t really consider Cradle Robber one, being less of a stallion.


“Nonsense, Captain, you just got here! Socialize, eat, make more jokes at the expense of my mother!” Cradle Robber gave a wide, languid gesture to the seat and the food set out. He didn’t at all seem angry, calmly taking an entree by the skull and pulping it over a waiting glass. Several of the ponies on the table were still faintly breathing, bound or pinned in place, the lucky ones were dead and cooked... This party sickened the Equestrian in me, the Deadmare on the other hoof, salivated.


Rend. Tear. Feast. Easily ignored at first, this three word blurb turned plaguing susurration. The pony nearest to me on the table was bleeding out, near death and already unconscious. Black drool hit the table under my chin and I bit my tongue when I slammed my maw shut and shook those dark thoughts from my mind. “Don’t feel so guilty, there’s nothing you can do to save them,” I thought bitterly, or was it just another voice that bickered in my skull?


“I’ll take it to go,” I said, my jaw clenching so hard I split my tongue against my teeth. Black ichor filled the bowl of my jaw, cascading down my chin to the lip of the table. The roiling black puddle sizzled against the cutlery, a testament to the heat of the smelter. The ‘food’ would never become tepid and I noticed several ponies collapsed in their cages, panting, too tired to sing, lips moving wordlessly beyond their control. “You know, how about I take them all, I’d hate to leave you with leftovers...” Wishful thinking, no chance they’d release their captives to me and let me on my merry way, still, worth a shot.


A brief exchange, one of threats and promises; He threatened to drop the remaining cages into their respective vats of oil if I didn’t sit down and I promised to shove him up the minotaur’s ass--Not really my most civil of verbal exchanges. Not wanting to be the cause of even more death on this foul night, I sat down, picking up a spoon and fork, one in either hoof. I was a rather disgruntled dinner guest, one that refused to eat. The music played gayly as a backdrop to this tense, awkward party while I entertained the prospect of jamming the dessert spoon into Cradle Robber’s sockets.


“What are you doing, Steelgraft?” Headcase was already on my case. “It’s not worth the risk! If they capture or kill you--”


Click. Host Terminated Connection. I love being able to do that.


Looks like it was party time, seeing all avenues of escape blocked off, I wagered even the windows were covered somehow, at least with bomb traps. It was a requirement for every evil lair, death traps and a seemingly inconspicuous, restraining chair. I took my seat suspiciously, half expecting the chair to jump or lock me in place. Surprise, it’s a regular crappy chair, made of crappy wood and held together with crappy, rusted nails bound in duct tape. The duct tape was a recent refurbishment.


“You think I’d sabotage your chair? I’m much more severe and direct.” The top head snorted while the lower one flicked their ears, staring at me with an incredulous expression. “Don’t you remember my Modus operandi?”


“Nope.”


“Pravum est cor omnium, ubi vos satus,” Cradle Robber spoke, using a dead language of all things. “The heart is where you start, it’s a New Roaman saying.”


“Using the dead language of latin,” I found it humorous, it was easy to tell he was utilizing some form of in-built auto-translator. “The heart is deceitful of all things, where you start with? Your Modus Operandi should be ‘pretend to be cultured, look like an ass’. “


Cradle Robber coughed into his hoof, quickly taking a sip from his glass. “Ah, you can remember your fascination with ancient languages, to think a moron like you can actually retain some form of knowledge.”


“I was an archaeologist before I was a soldier,” I reminded him.


“You were a pirate, Captain. A vile scallywag as vicious as they came.”


I was at a distinct disadvantage here, they both knew me, yet I didn’t recognize either of them and they expected me to know them. No formal introduction was given, only proving how horrible of a host Cradle Robber was. For as poor as their hosting was, they put a lot of work into imitating a proper high-society snafu, nailing the stiff and dull parts down with equal accuracy.


True to the emulation of the prim parties of delegates and politicians, this one hid its real purpose by facade. I wasn’t rubbing elbows with aristocrats, who had more money than morals; instead my hosts were psychopaths with more power than common decency. After some polite banter and introductions, of which I spent a majority pushing a disembodied eyeball around my plate, my mood for flat sparkle cola and gutcakes sullied by poor company. I was getting sick of small talk about the weather (Gloomy) and the traffic (Roamer) getting here.


“It’s a shame your little whore couldn’t make it,” Cradle Robber cooed. I tensed visibly. “Did she die or was she just not in the mood?” He was obviously talking about Gangrene.


He gave me an opening like a back-lit barn-side. I took it. “Your mother? I’m not sure.”


Cradle Robber cringed, drawing his teeth into a hard clench, speaking through them, “Not my mother, you little WORM! Your little bandit marefriend!” Quick to anger, the pint sized pimple was a dream to irritate.


“Oh, her,” I realized with mock innocence. “She’s going to be late, had to powder her horn and try on a few dresses.” Gangrene might come back with Keena or not at all. PNK-3 told me to trust them, to believe I wasn’t alone, that I had friends.


“It could be chocolate milk...It could be chocolate milk...”


“So we won’t be disturbed? That’s good,” Cradle Robber said, which chilled me with concern. “It’s so nice to finally see you again, what has it been, fifty years? Yes, a good fifty years since you died last. You have a bad habit of getting yourself killed.” He gave a pause, taking a sip from the wine glass before handing it off to his minotaur companion. “Do you remember Tomb Town?”


“Can’t say I recall,” I replied honestly, staring daggers at the both of them from over the table. I roamed my eyes up to the dangling dead warlord then back to the derptastic duo at the other end of the table. “So, you killed Muffincake. Why?” I had to get them talking, about something else. Getting the evil villain to monologue his exploits was a sure-fire way to buy some time to find an escape route or a way to kill him--Those vats of boiling oil and the massive smelter’s furnace were options, my eyes shopped around advantages as I kept the conversation rolling.


Cradle Robber seemed nonplussed by my dismissal, yet he was more than happy to gloat about his grand machinations in true supervillain fashion. “Ah, because it’s part of the natural order,” The sock puppet reject said. “Look there,” He gestured up to a painted mural on the foremare’s office; a pony being swallowed by the jaws of a hungry earth. Beneath this macabre symbol was written, ‘Deh Week Behcum Deh Eats.’--It was all painted blinding white over red. “The weak are devoured by the strong, even the Bakers revered natural order,” Cradle Robber licked his lips, picking a loose piece of flesh from his teeth. “Survival of the fittest. Not,” he gave pause to roll his head in gesture to Muffincake’s ballooned form, “The fattest.”


Honesty wasn’t the strong suit of these meat-machines, I trusted their explanation as a way to save face. Imagine, how would the rest of Detrot react if they found out the God King felt threatened by one of the Warlords? I accused the deadmare of such a thing.


“So, the dead feel fear,” I said, hoping to keep him talking. The foremare’s office was added to my prospective options, the levers inside operated the overhead crane as well as any mechanical controls. If I could pull any of those levers, it could dump the oil. “And then what, you’ll ride the table out on a wave of grease? Be practical--How do you get the captives out?” There’s. No. Couches. Right, the captives, I couldn’t pull out without them, Keena would be cross. Which cage held the Eternite kids? Unless they had aged rapidly over the past few days into emaciated, sedated adults they were not among the captives.


My accusation offended the meatfreak, who scoffed and surely would have popped a monocle at such an insinuation had he attained the class to don an aristocratic ensemble. “Afraid of him? Now, why would we fear him? His ambition simply exceeded his grasp, much like yours.” He was beating around the bush, not unlike the smooth cabinet officials in days of yore. Deflection with a question followed by a veiled threat; typical political circus. “I was as afraid of Muffincake as I am of you, Captain.”


“You don’t have to lie to me,” I trilled, “Having me so close is hazardous to your health.” Actually, I was an idiot for allowing MYSELF to get this close to him. Was I bluffing? Yes. Yes, I was bluffing. Fast-talking my way out of this was akin to avoiding Pinkie Pie on your birthday.


“Your affliction of gross stupidity is noncommutative.” Ouch. “Let me tell you now, you intrepid little worm, every inch you’ve wriggled was allowed by Hades’ good will. You’re not a threat.” He nickered jeeringly, patting his minotaur companion on the head before stroking him like a mustache twirling cartoon villain would a cat.


Curiosity bit me hard, knee-jerking my eyes back to the host. “Then why let me get this far?”


“That’s the whole point.” The beast licked his lips, grinning so wide I expected the top of his head to slide right off. “You don’t get it, do you? Do you have the faintest idea why I organized the biggest settlement raid ever seen since Tomb Town?”


“Hormone imbalance, geldy-boy?” I hazard this guess nonchalantly to my predicament, poking the bear relentlessly as it were. My declaration only made that half-mad half-corpse smile wider, showing blazingly white plastic.


“My, you’re eager to die,” Cradle Robber cooed, planting his hooves upon Tauros’s horns. Cradle Robber took a sip of pulped grey matter from his glass before swirling its chunky contents. “This is all for you, as usual you get to be the center of attention. Isn’t that nice?”


Tensing every servo, the cutlery in either hand crumpled, the head of the soup spoon splitting off and catching me under the chin. An eyebrow twitched indignantly. “For me? You shouldn’t have. You really, really shouldn’t have.” Angrily, I chucked my salad fork, breaking his drinking glass.


Cradle Robber snarled once, pausing ever so shortly to give a derogatory comment under his breath. He coughed lightly, forcing an insincere smile before he continued, his temper visibly constrained, “Hades, the God-King is willing to overlook your traitorous ways and welcome you back. You’ve already seen what we’re capable of, there’s no point in resisting.” Another veiled threat.


“After reviewing your offer, I say neigh!” I threw my plate next, Cradle Robber ducked down, casting me a stern glare. A spark between us, a forced connection, peer-to-peer was established. It was a feeling I recognized, he’d done this before, projecting his words right into my mind.


“You know what he does to traitors,” cooed the voice in my mind, “or have you forgotten Canterlot?”


Canterlot?


Reality flickered in and out, distorted by the candlelight flickering on the candelabras. White pillars met marble floors, jubilant music died in the air, an abyss, wide yet shallow, swallowed the warmth from my breath. Blood pooled under my bullet-ridden form, nails of iron pierced my lungs, forcing haggard breath to launch streaks of red.


“Of all the stallions to lose their conviction, it was you! Have you forgotten what they took from you?” Goldenblood said to me, filling my vision with his stern disappointment. “We shared the same dream!” His hurt expression sharpened vengefully, his hoof cupping under my chin roughly. “Why would you betray me now?!” He spat.


“Stick a cupcake in my eye,” said I in a strained voice, spraying bloody breath in his face.


He frowned, turning around, wiping my blood from his cheek using a red, monogrammed napkin. “Put in a call to Dr. Stable, tell him we found our precursor.” He sighed wistfully, as if he was aiming to push a great galleon with his lungs. “Psalm, give Operative Penance his severance.”


A piercing thump through my eye, deep into the soft flesh of my gray matter, scattering my thoughts across the nearby fountain. Dying--I was dying, greased by icy fate, my vision faded to a monotone kaleidoscope. My final thoughts were of my failure, to my best friend and to the Ministry Mares, and perhaps all of Equestria.


Goldenblood--That’s how I died, my best friend had me killed me. The more I knew, the less I wanted to know, true for much of my past. It didn’t make sense, none of it, it wasn’t congruent with how I remembered things or how I felt. Cradle Robber continued to tamper with my mind, triggering another memory with sanguinary susurration.


“Or perhaps you fancy an ascent up Tartarus Tower? Deadzone could always use an expansion!”


Fires erupted from the center of an ovoid obelisk, pulsing energy shook the ground. Displaced, my mind reeled to catch up. Bending like brittle stalks of wheat to harsh winds, skyscrapers bowed to the might of a tremorous shockwave. An ivory tower, double helix, climbed into the moon’s eclipse. Burning pain eviscerated every last thought that went through my mind, my body ashed against the curtain of hellfire. “Like Icarus, your waxen wings melt in the sun. You can not undo god.”


A floating head in a pickled-egg jar seized with crab-claws and hoisted me out of a black lake, speaking through garbled static. “Steelgraft! Focus! Your systems are unshielded against tampering! He’s triggering memory recall!” Headcase--Was that his name? He looked much better in life, for one, he wasn’t a head in a pickled egg jar. Another memory slammed into my own, another mind melding into the connection in efforts to insert itself between Cradle Robber and I.


“Interloper--Do not interfere!”


“Ooooo, a movie!” Chimed in another voice. A fourth entity pushed into the conference, straining the connection. “Oh, I wanna watch, can I, huh, huh, huh?” So much for privacy; we were all subject to the voyeuristic tendencies of PNK-3. “Oh, this one looks good! A medical drama!”


Figuratively, PNK-3 had stolen the remote from Cradle Robber, and she elected to choose a show more her speed. A brief hiccup occurred briefly between us, aligning a memory between Headcase and I.


A doctor’s office, small and cluttered with stark white walls not unlike the room I first awoke in, the only difference was the maneframe terminal and heavy black desk.


Looking through my host’s eyes, I saw scattered paperwork with chicken scratch scrawl in the borders, my host was assuredly a medical doctor. A phone was hot against his ear as he tangled himself in the cord tethered to the desk. “He’s not ready for deployment, mister Goldenblood. His memories are still an issue--”


“Can he fight?” There was a time when hearing that voice would have made me happy--Those times were long in the past.


“I...Suppose he’s combat ready, but-” my host sputtered, rolling his eyes thoughtfully among paperwork, hovering each stack of disarray up to quick scrutiny.


The answer over the phone was laconic. “Combat ready is sufficient.”


“My colleague, Doctor Steelgraft, is still reviewing the Steelpony report. There could be complications,” He sighed, hanging his head to rub his temples as the voice on the line berated him for his slow progress.


“There will be no complications, only results. I’ve supplied plenty of release candidates.” Goldenblood again, his tone terse.


My host sighed, hanging his head, “Yes.” He lifted up a form from the stack of papers, in bold at the header it read; Patient No. 39--Buttersquash. “Plenty of volunteers.”


Distinguishing faces from asses in these disjointed memory fragments made a roller coaster’s journey out of a non-linear path. White, crisp noise conjoined to thumping bass of irate anger pulsing into my mind. Seconds turned to eons.


Victims of us all.


Snap. That was either my sanity or my last nerve, perhaps both in tandem. The world came rushing back as anger filled the empty tankard of my soul, topping it with mouth-frothing rage. Sagged with interference, the connection was terminated--My iSeeU displayed a broken line icon between four tokens on my active call screen. Feedback boomed into a siren’s screeching, ringing my ears with screams beyond the mists.


Host terminated connection.


A distant boom of thunder far above the stratosphere shook the cracked window panes of the factory, awakening me to a more recently made familiar ring of Tartarus. The music jumped tempo and increased in speed, the sticky air billowed with gusts of heated steam pouring out of fat pipework. Yep, I was back in the dimly lit restaurant, poor company included.


Still seated, I found myself immobilized by the long table against my chair. Tauros and his midget tumor were methodically trotting over the table in my direction, kicking up entrees and occasionally polishing off any pony ‘entree’ unfortunately prone in their wake.


“So, you’ve escaped the black opal. Their interloping changes nothing, I have contingencies!” Infuriated at my escape from his mind-rape, the little control freak took it out on the table. In mouth salivating rage he let loose a stream of foul bile, the table blossoming with holes as the mucus turned the tableware into puddles. It was official, he was a pimple. A teeny, tiny pimple filled with acid.


“You liar,” I squirmed against the table, snarling in anger. “Those memories weren’t true, they can’t be! Goldenblood, he wouldn’t have done those things!” He wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, or worse, shouldn’t have. My world was coming apart at the seams--Headcase had tried to warn me, he had said Goldenblood’s project had gone too far, but why attribute malice when he was surely just misguided?


“Oh, no, those memories were real. Very real. I’m not surprised you’ve forgotten,” Cradle Robber drank in my pain and relished in my discomfort. “Betrayal is in you, your very nature. You betrayed Goldenblood so he had to make you quiet as the grave...But then he brought you back. He brought us all back, all of us his toys.” He let out a weak cackle, tilting his head back, “Goldenblood is the father of the Deadmare, and you its progenitor--Without your vengeance, your hatred for the world, there would be no us. Your ultimate betrayal was to all of Equestria. Look at us in our glory, we are revenge served cold, dead, neverending and eternal!”


The memory I’d seen belonging to Babs Seed in Donuts Extreme was dourly recalled. It all started with the rehabilitation directive spearheaded by Robronco. It was signed over to the Office of Interministry Affairs--At which point it became Project Second Wind, and something good was twisted sinister, evident by the horrors of Detrot.


Where did Second Wind go too far? When did it all go wrong? Goldenblood, whatever he had dreamed, it must have failed, and I had failed to stop him. This wasn’t the world we wanted, this isn’t what we had dreamed, old friend!


“So, what shall it be? Will you finally see the light and join us, Captain? Don’t you remember your dream? A world without death, pain, or suffering.” Cradle Robber gave a dull snort, “We just have to clear the pests off first--Then, then we can complete his grand design. Everything will be wiped clean; history unwritten, as if the war never happened.” A world without death, they just had to kill everything first.


My body went limp, my struggling ceased, and my mind was blanked momentarily of thoughts. Grief, I felt, was an appropriate response. I ground my teeth together hard, praying for tears to fill my eyes, to show me my equinity, but Deadmare cannot cry. We are monsters. I had no choice in any matter, each side wanted me to fulfill an obligation they felt owed; To destroy the Deadmare and free them their eternity or to join their ranks to wipe the planet clean. Then what? Destroying the Deadmare would remove one threat to the world, a world that I couldn’t debate was worth saving.


For the first time in my brief unlife, the voices were quiet, as if waiting for my answer. There was no gnashing or clashing of ideals or the pushing and pulling of my fractured id and ego. There was no Headcase badgering me, telling me what to do or guiding me. Just silence, leaving me the weight of the decision. It terrified me, being so alone.


“Well, what shall it be?” Cradle Robber encouraged me, his patience waning. “We are working to create a new Equestria, one without war, pain, or death. It will be beautiful, our reborn Equestria.”


The thing I missed most about Equestria was not her greenery or cheap breakfast cereals, but her smiling people. A nation of good friends and prosperity, where all were equal under the shared sky. This wasn’t my ideal Equestria, yet, I could not agree that the Deadmare were to make it any better.


Not all that inherited our Equestria were bad, far from it. Equestrians were in short supply, but they existed, and with them a sense of community, no matter how shallow. Gangrene, a mare who had been through the worst the world had given her still cared for others, she still fought to protect the young and the elderly. Keena was naive and idealistic, believing in friendship and charity. Standtall was dependable, honorable, and good--A real Steel Ranger whom even Applejack herself would approve(even if he did steal things from others, he more than made up for that).


“-make a better world,” Zone Control whispered in memoriam.


Equestria is not a place, but a state of mind, it is Harmony.


“Neigh,” said The Captain with a firm tone. “My Equestria is them.”


“Is that your final answer?” Cradle Robber beamed, making no attempt to mask his elation.


I did not utter another word, my eyes locked on him, a smile broke over my torn lips. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. “It really could be chocolate milk,” I smiled.


Our civil discourse was done, now that he knew I had no intention of joining him, he was seeking to end me, or worse, capture me. “Render him as inert as he is inept, honey bull!” Pet names, really? Some couples are joined at the hip, but rarely is that ever literal--At least now I knew they were dating, which was something I never wanted to know.


“Hey, I wonder how they make snoo-snoo!” a voice in my head erupted with mental images I could never scour free. Oh, so now they were starting up on me again! I think I preferred it when they were dead silent.


Tauros slammed down onto all fours and sling-shotted himself into a purple blur, horns lowered. His contingency was to beat me to a pulp. Oh Cradle Robber, I had such higher expectations of you!


I was only able to free one leg by the time he was nearly upon me. SATS went off, slowing time and granting me the clarity to catch the bull between his horns. Stiffening my foreleg, I let the force of the six-hundred pound beast splinter the gaudy, overstuffed wooden chair. My other foreleg joined the first and I regained footing, vaulting the bulk overhead to touch down hard.


CRUNCH! That didn’t sound healthy, all that weight came down on Cradle Robber, cracking his faceplate. Tauros was was slow to recover, both mouths catching generous helpings of floor, busting their chops and knocking a few teeth loose.


“You have some fight left in you!” Cradle Robber hissed, both heads spat out a tooth in unison, “Good! I’d hate for this to be quick!” He snapped at the maestro. “Where’s my music, Grinder?!”


“In music, timing is everything.” Said the augmented conductor cryptically. With a flicker of his horn’s magic the mesmerized victims began to play a harsh melody, hard with a foreboding, deep chorus. Lyrics were sung with focus and timing; not that I had time to reflect on the meaning of the words. Coming from the same creatures that consumed the flesh of the living to survive, it likely matched their abominable taste.


Thrash now, Riot now
It's time to meet your vengeful dead
Thrash now, Riot now
It's time to break our bread”


“May I have this dance?” Cradle Robber sent his request with a hydraulic punch. Blazingly fast, his strike caught me hard center, smashing me into the table’s edge and tumbling me end over end. My fingers carved up thin, long curls of wood as I skid to recovery. That single punch had sent me from one end of that banquet table to the other, the open furnace just behind me singed my tattered coat tails.


In one stroke, Cradle Robber had caused enough damage to cripple one of my limbs. A damage indicator popped up, my crippled foreleg wobbling on a weakened joint. The panels on the back of my hands grew hot with an intense glow matching my anger, sputtering my carcass into overdrive, digging into power reserves and draining ambient death from the freshly slain victims.


I played with a loosened tooth, licking at it. “Crapth, there goeth my award-winnin’ thmile.” Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, that’s what they say.


“You’ve made an ill choice! Do you really think they’ll accept you?” He pointed with one of the minotaur’s heavy hands. “You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought if you believe you had a place among those insects!” He sneered.


“Well youth didth callth mesh a wurmth...Th...thh...thhhhh,” I spoke through the gap in my teeth, sending globs of spit everywhere. I was doing it to irritate him, I couldn’t imagine anything more irritating than being near someone that talked with such a lisp.


Cradle Robber did not find my comment the least bit funny, shrewdly flattening his lips into a discontent scowl. “Must you speak like that?” He shuddered, “That voice is just horrendous!”


“Yeah, sorry, I can’t even stand it anymore,” I relented.


“Thank you,” He said with a sigh. “But now, I fear pleasantries are over. I’m going to enjoy knocking out your teeth and doing unspeakable things to your every orifice.”


There was nothing pleasant about that rapid escalation. “What was that?”


“Oh, after I’m done beating you, I’m going to humiliate you with gratuitous penetration.” Cradle Robber accented this with a flex of the minotaur’s hips.


“Hey, hey!” The music stopped as I vehemently called a time out. “Do you have any standards? You’re going to rape me? Seriously?!”


“He has no standards,” Organ Grinder agreed. “He’s a special kind of evil.”


“He rode the short bus to evil school, huh?” I deadpanned. “Villains have really declined in quality. Rape jokes and mass murdering gambits. I’m lowering my expectations from this point on.”


“See,” interjected Organ Grinder, “I told you this would happen! You damage our hard-earned reputation. We’re not even evil, we’re morally ambiguous, but you go and ruin it for everyone by being infant-raping evil! It’s deplorable!”


Cradle Robber slapped his forehead, giving an indignant groan, “Not this again! Just play your silly music and let me complete my mission!” Organ Grinder agreed, though seemed unhappy. “Our fight begins after the first verse.” The music began to play once more, filling the air with dread.


Thrash now, Riot now
It's time to meet your vengeful dead
Thrash now, Riot now
It's time to break our bread”


“Wait!” I shouted, just as the fight was about to commence. A fist-tipped pistion stopped just short of knocking my block off, the wind tossing my hair back.


“What is it now?!” Cradle Robber groaned as Tauros retracted his fist.


“Nothing,” I chuckled, “I just wanted to see if that would work.”


He officially hated me--Not only was I irritating, but I was also wasting his time. He sent a full force punch at my skull without hesitation, however, this time I was prepared, diving flat to the table and pulling out my knife, Alice, the blade hissing with dark whispers. Stalling allowed enough time for my SATS to recharge, which proved invaluable as it aided my throw. Shame my accuracy was horrible, leaving my intended target, Cradle Robber, unscathed as my vorpal blade sunk into the minotaur’s shoulder instead of the stallion’s juicy, glowing eye socket.


Fantastic! I still sucked at fighting for the most part, didn’t I? This titan had more experience and better upgrades and here I was going for a frontal assault. My ego was quite disappointed with my poor decision making skills.


I loved carnival games, one in particular was my favorite. It was one where you set a rubber chicken onto a tiny teeter totter then hit the other end with the mallet. The goal was to land the rubber chicken into a basket for a prize. It was all about skill, no luck involved, and the whole point was to win a tiny stuffed animal. Now I knew how the rubber chicken felt, Tauros having slammed one end of the table to vault me into the air, his whole point was to make me sad.


The ground tasted like blood and dirt, my body twisting into a crumpled heap as more leaks emerged along my stapled sides. I scarcely heard the mocking laughter over the ringing in my ears, nor could I see much of the world through the shattered screen of my iSeeU.


A frontal assault wouldn’t work, case and point; a few more hits like that and it was curtains. Knowing my luck they’d be argyle. Argyle print was so damn tacky, but I put it up in the bedroom because Recoil so loved the wedding gift her father gave. Options, I had options, one quickly hashed out plan saw me to the foremare’s office. Slap around the levers, diddle the controls, and dump the oil vats. Even then, it might not be enough to kill that punch-drunk titan.


Untangling my twisted legs, I jumped, narrowly avoiding another strike coming in, perching on the piston bar above the minotaur’s massive hand.


“Lucky runt,” hissed Cradle Robber.


“Skillful runt,” I argued, luck was never on my side. So far, so good! Over the shoulder and off onto the catwalk, halfway there to home free!


My ambitious wave crashed against the meatfreak’s open palm as he caught me from behind, whipping me back off the catwalk by my coat tails. This brief flight slammed me into the flabby, dangling body of Muffincake, swinging me into the ceiling to leave a misshapen contour of a ruggedly handsome, undead cyborg. “Just a minor setback...” I huffed, “Everything is according to plan.” Yes, I was at his mercy, exactly where he wanted me, and that meant he’d overestimate himself. He seemed like the gloating type, why finish this quickly when he could prolong his fun when he thought me helpless?


“Two arms, loser,” Cradle Robber chuckled, the minotaur’s digits flexing into the shape of an L on his forehead. “Are you even trying? I expected more!” He punished me by sending a telescoping punch up into me, sinking me further into the ceiling. Crunch. Another. Crunch. Another. Crunch. The beast reigned supreme at rock-paper-scissors, he always chose rock and he tore straight through my paper.


Stars danced around my head like a conga line, objecting to my unfair treatment of my coagulated brain-matter. If my brain could leave my body and find a less feckless host, it likely would, draining from either nostril as a soupy paste. A nosebleed, like the ones I used to get during the cold winter months. Could I even get those anymore, being undead? It’s the little things I miss; Nosebleeds and not getting fisted randomly. Yep, the little things. The universe’s cosmic outhouse wasn’t done raining down plop upon me by any stretch, the warlord’s fat, blubbery body exploded on the first strike and every blow thereafter was grinding fat organ paste into my white coat. My coat used to be white, right? I can’t seem to remember, perhaps a lovely shade of Thursday?


The voices in my head were knocked into senility, one was quoting Shakespearean quotation while my id was playing go fish with my instincts, instinct always ate all the cards. It must be quite the psychosis to personify every part of yourself as an entity--Sometimes it felt as if my heart was conglomerate of diverse memoirs, or fragments therein, all of them different but similar. Some of my memories didn’t even make sense at times, since I knew I never worked on a rockfarm or had at any point been a lesbian with a hoof fetish. Did I ever dance with an android named Lupei?


“Driftin' (Driftin') off to weep
Your regrets will find you
Wishin' (Wishin') you could sleep
And the joy of nightmares bind you”


“I’m almost saddened...” Cradle Robber sighed, looking up at the indent puttied with fat fuck and damaged cyborg. “Why would you fight for them? They hated us before the war, then when we were necessary we became heroes, then we were tried as traitors--But it didn’t end there. Look at us all now, Captain! We’re shadows of our former selves--We were weapons! They used us and yet you still, in death, turned against us for their sake!” The beast sent an open palm to peel my flattened body off the ceiling and delivered me hard into the table, audibly cracking sinew, bone and ancient formica.


Distinct imprints of my body left their mark on everything he tossed me into. The floor, that pillar, that other pillar, the side of the oil vat, to name a few locations now sporting a new Steelgraft indent; it was vogue, the new thing in retro-archaic industrial wall relief sculpting.


How many Deadmare does it take to paint a room? One, if you waylay them hard enough.


There was no skin left on my teeth to hold on by, and I wasn’t splitting hairs here, I was holding on only by a single thread. Yeah, this was a point I’d have to give to Headcase, he was right; as usual. Doubt he’d care much that I was keeping score if I was dead. For those of you that DO care(me), the score was; Steelgraft: 3, Headcase: 6


Speaking of the egghead in the pickle jar, he should be badgering me, demanding I flee. The only sound that came through was a soft crackle of a dead line ringing. Something was jamming my onboard radio, along with my communications. A blessing in disguise! Listening to Headcase complaining about my methods was the last thing I wanted to hear when I was close to doing the last thing I ever did.


What the hayseeds was Cradle Robber rambling about? None of it made sense to me! I knew nothing about my crew being tried as traitors, I could hardly remember any of them at all! My brain caught up with me, forcing syllables to sentences that came out with a stream of black ooze and splintered enamel.


“Shut up or start making sense,” I groaned, the chain coiled up over me, heavy and thick.


Sparks flittered around my battered wounds, I was falling apart, my flesh hanging in huge, tattered chunks. Beneath my flesh there was nothing but metal wreathed over bone, bolted and bound in place. Wires spat angry hisses of energy, dancing lights of embers across the concrete floor. No pain, no sensation, but I lamented the loss of my good looks.


“Pray now, beg now
Lay your sins to rest
Forget now, remember now
We're already dead”


“Sense, Captain? You didn’t protect us! Look at me, what you’ve made of me!” Cradle Robber raved, storming over to me on his ignoble steed, teeth gleaming. “And those weaklings you protect; Selfish, worthless, and weak!” He licked his lips. “You’d choose them over us!” He launched into another attack, a left jab, fast and heavy, snatching my unresponsive body up and bringing me down into the table, splintering it in half. Laminated particle board disintegrated to acid and abuse, littering the floor with plates, goblets, and cutlery, all somehow in pristine condition. Indigo must have sold them some wares, in all likelihood, who else had the audacity to collect miscellaneous indestructible objects?


Groaning, I dug up from the ballpit of splinters and pristine dinnerware. “I’ve met plenty I’d choose over you. Very, very many...” I rasped. I might even choose Key over him.


The siamese twins of sin were faster and stronger, I couldn’t reach the foremare’s office on hoof, he’d tear me apart. Finding my grip around one end of a heavy industrial chain, I judged its length and weight. The chain was long, I’d say a good fifty feet and heavy. Now that had a decent reach, enough to hit the Foremare’s office--Or come up short and leave me completely open to a sound beating.


“I don’t think this is a good plan,” spoke that little voice in the back of my head. I think at one point I called it common sense. Good, we’re doing it anyway! That little voice was buried deep, locked away in a pit of despair, gagged, and beaten with a dil--”Don’t you have someone to kill? Focus, dum dum.” Oh, right.


Backing up, I kept myself just out of his range, walking him forward to stand next to one of the vats, trailing the chain as I did. He thought little of it, a novelty, a security blanket to my tattered nerves. He drank in my broken appearance, marveling at how I hobbled back, half dragging myself. My act was convincing, enough to make him take it slow and enjoy the power he had over me.


“Thrash now, Riot now--”


“What’s the matter, little filly, all tuckered out?” Each meaty finger flexed, curling into slow fists. Tauros gave a dejected sigh, finding interest in looking elsewhere. Cradle Robber, however, was firmly enamored. “Are you hoping to trip me with that? I’ll snap it like a mort’s spine.” I shuddered at his imagery, shaking my head.


“Just biding my time,” I replied, waiting for SATS to cooldown, which was taking much longer than usual. It was too hot in here, and the brightness was near-blinding, compounding upon the difficulty of navigating my broken menu screen. My gear loadout was low on bang, boom, or pointy. Alice was hilt deep in the minotaur’s upper chest, I thought about what I may have on me and it prompted a response from my HUD. The device was decidedly finicky, many of the features were disabled by sonic interference. The inventory menu, however, worked, displaying its meager list with such a cheerful tone I could only imagine that it was quite proud of itself, being useful for a change.


Access Inventory;
Frag Mine(1)--Weapon--Looks like a salt lick. Coincidence?
Pinkie’s Pie--Weapon--Electrifying flavor! Zap-Apple Deluxe!
Deadly Mixture(1)--Drug--Inject directly to temple! Boom, headshot!
Magical Bandages--Healing--Boo-Boo Bandage and Nightmare Night Costume
Meeting Ponies--Magazine--+10 Speech; A coupon for ‘Cosmare’ is inside


Looks like the inventory had a sense of humor, granting brief descriptions of each item as if seen through the eyes of a sarcastic cynic. At least it didn’t have voice-over dialog! Lessee what we have to work with! Gee, that magazine for diplomacy would have come in handy ten minutes ago, said nopony ever! The frag mine looked like a salt lick, an ironic coincidence. If all else failed, maybe he’d bite down on it if I asked him nicely?


Why the buck was the pie listed as a weapon? That’s just absurd, there was no way--Wait, it was PNK-3, from past experience, that pie could very well be an engine of destruction capable of rending the very fabric of existence with its steamy, wholesome, apple goodness. It could also literally just be a pie. A pie meant to taste delicious and be thrown. I wasn’t desperate enough to stoop to pie flinging just yet.


Innovations I once thought inane were now paramount to my survival. I never thought I’d utilize the inventory feature in my iSeeU, such a superfluous addition to an already simple action. It just saved time, shaving precious fractions of a second off fumbling to grab something myself, grasping my items in its own magically generated field to prep them for use.


Action Queue
Use: Deadly Mixture
>Equip: Chain
>Delay action: 5 seconds
>Combat Action: Trigger SATS--Called Target; Foremare Control Panel
>Movement Action: Surf


“It's time to meet your vengeful dead--”


He took a step back, concern filling his features, “You really think I’m stupid? I know your game, you always pull something cute and clever. I’m not falling for it!”


“You’re too smart for me,” I mocked. My HUD went through its rotation, the drug was proffered to my temple in the blinks of an eye, triggering its pneumatic needle, then came the five second delay for my systems to utilize the combat enhancer.


5


The drug took effect; the neon blue tube was filled with a concoction known by the name of Cooldown, an incredibly toxic synthetic lubricant known for its incredible heat retention. SATS renewed once the coolant stabilized my overheating, lowering my internal temperatures to peak performance, ending my Overclocked state before burn out. Worst brainfreeze ever!


4


That’s when Cradle Robber charged, gripping the ground to launch himself, his other arm in reserve to deal a charged, steam spitting punch.


3


Coming in with a speed that rivaled the take-off of a Shadowbolt, there was no time to dodge, the window panes rattled and shattered as Tauros’s punch broke the sound barrier. SATS triggered prematurely under my prompt, lending up a meager counter to the monolithic impact, the internals of my left foreleg all but collapsed from the resounding impact, the sacrificed limb buckling like a crumple zone as I redirected the force away from my center of mass.


2


I cursed internally, my thoughts going at an intense speed to understand the blurs of the world around me, filled with flying debris and long, low sounds of music slowed to a crawl. I listed left, turning with the momentum into a spin to juke Tauros and line myself up for a clear shot of the Foremare’s control panel, leaving me to only circumvent the horizontal catwalk crossing over just in front of the wide window.


“---tiiiiiiiiimmmmme---toooooooo---brrrreeeeeaaaak---”


1


SATS hit cooldown again, just in the knick of time, allowing me to finish off my maneuver with a riposte, snapping the chain forward in an arc. The coiled chain jumped up, catching the contour of Tauros’s center and coiling about, binding around his midsection, drawing taut as his center was garroted. The pressure sent acid spewing from Cradle Robber’s mouth, saturating the air as he was whiplashed back mercilessly. The catwalk echoed a deathcry of twisting metal as the bulk of the minotaur was sent through it on path to the Foremare’s office just beyond.


The shock in their expressions as this unbelievable turn of events unfolded was forever burned into my brain as one of my favorite moments of my unlife. I love it when a great plan spontaneously forms out of mad desperation. (Even bad ideas were great ideas if they turned out favorably, in my opinion.)


Acid burns dotted the stallions mask as new fractures grew, spider legs on porcelain silk, and one of the frayed pressure hoses struck him intermittently on the side of his head. The chain compressed down to his spine, sizzling as acid seeped from the deep wound, squirting everywhere and melting metal to mush.


“Driftin' (Driftin') off to weep--”


Wordlessly, he tore free of the wrecked office, landing hard among the acid burns on unsure, but steady hooves. He looked more irate than damaged, his wounds second only to his bruised ego. “If that’s the best you can do--” He was interrupted mid-snarl by the release catches of the oil vats opening, pushing the massive pots over into the center of the factory.


“Your regrets will find you--”


Torrents of hot, bubbling oil came out in waves, washing away any evidence of the table or its decor. Cradle Robber and his lackey were blindsided by a large cage leaping out with the rushing oil, knocking him senseless as he was assaulted with the viscous, bubbling fluid.


I discovered the buoyancy of a formica table as well as my skills at surfing, both of which were competing in their horribleness. I wish the frantic screaming leaving my mouth was manly, but in iteration, they were shrill with panic as I flapped my forelegs to maintain balance on my rear hooves. Desperation lead me to Tauros, the only island above the pooling grease. From ruin to riches, interest on my investment was paid in combat equity. An attack of opportunity firm on the ugliest part of his anatomy, stomping right between his beady little eyes.


“--Wishin' (Wishin') you could sleep” The music continued to play, even as boiling oil lazily lapped over the edges of the stage.


The first attack I’d managed to land was enough to turn one of the heads into a gibbering drool mop of stupid. Sadly, the other head could still talk, and it began to badger me for trespassing. “Get off, you little gnat!” Cradle Robber hissed angrily, his words coming with a spew of acidic bile. Twisting out of the way, I lost my balance, slipping on a grease stain and falling to the bubbling black muck.


Do you know why you never wear a tie to a bar? Not only are most bars not business casual, but most bars had the tendency to get sluggish, as in hoofs a’plenty, and you never wanted to wear anything like a collar around your neck for fear it could be used against you. I had learned that the hard way, since I had once found bow-ties fashionable and the bars I attended were seedier than Apple Acres’ fields on Spring Seedapalooza. This was a lesson I’d pass on to Tauros by example.


Winding his noose necktie in my gauntlet for a firm grip, I stopped my fall just short of the bubbling heat breathing on the soles of my boots. Slobberknocked, the beast groaned drowsily, jaws agape, his open mouth making an adequate handle to leverage a fast and furious alley-oop.


I said ‘hello’ to Cradle Robber’s disbelief stricken face with a full metal cracker, ringing his bell with satisfaction several times in rapid succession. It made a satisfying ping against his mask, and the act of backhanding him was one longed for since I first heard his voice. Every strike pulled the noose taut, tossing and steering the dazed Tauros as he struggled to remain standing against the boiling tide of black.


Cradle Robber caught me in the temple with a wide legged sweep displacing not even a hair from my head. Add a comical squeak sound effect and it might be a bit more potent. His noodly appendages lacked the raw punching power of his massive conjoined twin, and due to design choices, Cradle Robber was out of his element. I however was perfectly positioned, a veritable Viceroy of Violence.


“Do you even know what a Viceroy is? It--” Sounds awesome and official. But. It. Means. That I’m about to exercise a royal decree upon his crown with utmost prejudice. I hate this guy, really, I do--If I were powered off hatred, I bet the heat coming off me would bake a potato. “...” I. Got. Nothing. “We really are dealing with a fraction of an idiot.” And I form the head!


Hatred fueled an impulse of hot lightning down my foreleg to slam steel hard into the center of Cradle Robber’s super punchable snout. It was literally built to be punchable. Looking at it made me want to punch it. It had to be punched. And so it was. His mask cracked like brittle china, the crumple zone that had once been his nose now sat an inch further back in his skull. A thick spew of black ichor sprayed from his nostrils, draining down the channels of my knuckles. His head snapped back, the sinew of his neck stretching, eyes flickering to vacancy. I sent his teeth an inch back into his skull to join his nose, jerking his head back into the pressurized container. He lost a few more plastic teeth, tumbling out from his glass jaw.


Only when my damaged arms drained my reserve power did he get a chance to retaliate. He chose to spew dialog. “You idiot! Do you know what you’ve done?!” Of course I did, I was claiming victory right now--This is how it ends for him.


“Pray now, beg now--”


“Shut up!” My demand came with instant ultimatum, my discourse in this debate rendered in bullet points made bludgeon. His rebuttal was to laugh while I performed facial deconstruction surgery with the blunt sides of my knuckles. Power bled out from my servos with every hard strike, over-extended and packed full of seething rage--And then I went for the coupe de grace. Plucking the handle of Alice from Tauros’s shoulder, I primed the blade to bring it down on Cradle Robber’s masked face. Lethargically, he gazed up at me, still giving that irritating, wheezing laugh.


“What’s so damned funny?” I demanded, holding Cradle Robber still for the decisive final blow.


“--Lay your sins to rest”


Rolling his head back, Cradle Robber only laughed hard through his broken mouth. “What happens when oil touches open flame?” A riddle in the middle of getting his block knocked in? Wait...Oh. Oh Horseapples at tea time.


“--We're already dead”


That verse, the end of the song, it was poignant as it was applicable to our situation. At that moment, perhaps in an ironic twist of fate, was when the oil pushed over the thresh of the furnace’s guard and slid into the furnace. I’ve made a grave mistake. No sooner had that thought shot acrossed my mind, the fire spread over the inky black lake, turning it into a roaring fire. I turned, abandoning my attack on Cradle Robber in order to make a mad leap for the catwalk. Black hooves held me back, Cradle Robber holding me firmly as he could, a crazed look in his bioluminescent eyes. In seconds, the fire was eating into Tauros, creeping up his body.


Lodging that knife into his eye would have been better had it been fatal, but my stroke was made shallow, the black black jutting down from his lower jaw. Still, he reeled back with a shrill hiss, releasing me to snatch freedom just as fire consumed his bodily form. A blind leap of faith, my eyes seared by blinding light, a needle of discomfort lodging into the back of my skull. Metal against metal, my digits gripping tight against railing, it was all I could do to trust that was the case, unable to see.


Pulling myself to safety, I clasped one of my hands over my ocular implant. Vision returned slowly, with vestiges of pain pulsing right into my nerves. The music lingered in the smokey air, turning to a cacophony of coughing and weak cries. Fire, it was everywhere, with thick smoke rising like a blanket, choking out the hypnotized creatures trapped in their cages. Blistering heat was rising fast, and with nowhere to go, it began to collect.


Damnit all, this was a disaster! How was I going to save them? One thing at a time--Quickly! I selected the medical bandages from my inventory using my iSeeU’s management function and queued up an action to bind it over my left eye. My body acted on impulse, possessed by my system to complete the task laid out. Now I could see. Sort of.


The music died as the stage below vanished into the blaze, and with its absence, the thralled ponies took hold of their senses and found themselves in dire need of help. Bawling and mewling, they threw themselves against the bars, stretching out their hooves for help, some going so far as to bite the bars themselves, no matter how futile the effort. The cages seemed enchanted, as not even the unicorns trapped among them could displace the bars or heavy lock.


“Think!” I am! “Think faster!” I’m trying!


Solutions, solutions, I flittered my gaze briefly about, exhausting my just recently cooled down SATS spell to grant me precious seconds to think. The heat was nearly unbearable, a temperature gauge hidden behind warning screens on my HUD detailed a temperature that--Oh, it’s only one-hundred and five degrees.


“That’s Celsius.”


Oh. Oh! That’s bad, the air temperature was too hot, they wouldn’t last but a minute, and even then, they’d need medical attention. What to do-what to--A rattle sounded ushered in the final nail to my conundrum coffin, the large metal beam of the overhead crane was coming down, taking the cages with it!


I leapt into action, trying to snatch one of the chains as it whipped slack, one slipped through my digits, another snapped at a weak link, and the third held firm, dragging me to the railing. Bracing myself, I dug in and held the cage, the flames licking at it hungrily. I tried to shut out the screams of agony, the smell of burning flesh, feathers, and fur filling my nostrils. I tried to ignore that bittersweet feeling of loss and enthusiasm with each life I failed to save.


My integrity steadily improved as my cursed body fed on the brightness leaving husks behind, and that gave me just enough strength to hold on for a moment longer. “No! No! NO!” Yes. Feed. Us.


Two cages burned in the oil, creatures marred by fire and oil desperately scaled one another to escape, limbs curling into black ash, reaching out to me, cursing, and crying. And then they died. The cage I’d captured fared little better, the bottom was heating up, causing pain as the heat of the air burned their lungs and singed their flesh. A few thousand pounds of steel and creatures hanging off the catwalk wasn’t doing any good either, leaving it a twisted mess, barely holding as it swayed.


WARNING: Power low


Whoever thought it cute to make my power notification an empty mug of apple cider should be injected with acid and fed to sharks. The order, however, had to be specific, as the sharks would no interest in an acid filled body.“You really are terrible.” I know!


“Save us! Please!” Cries from below.


My body sagged, collapsing on the catwalk. I lost grip with one gauntlet, now dangling the cage lower over the edge. The lights began to fade on my other gauntlet, the leering, craggy smiles losing their opulent sharpness as the bright yellow faded dark, giving one last final flicker of stubborn will. I locked my grip, seizing my gauntlet closed so it wouldn’t open.


That bought me three seconds before my ruined arm began to fall apart at the seams, the staples snapping off as the skin stretched over ruined metal tubing beneath. There was no scenario that ended with me saving them, there were, however, plenty of scenarios where holding on any longer would just serve to get me killed as well. No right choice, no wrong choice either. Holding them up, just over a fire was cruel, but letting them die? Letting myself die? Was this murder? No time for that, no time to think. Just act, act now or don’t act at all.


“I’m sorry,” the choice was made quickly. I unclasped my hand, causing the entire catwalk to lurch as its load dropped, screaming all the way. I imagined Keena’s flock burning among the cages.


Ignoring the sound of my own skin burning on the metal grating, I rolled onto my back. I couldn’t feel the pain, the sensation of burning, at most I could only feel a discomforting heat about my horn. The entire facility was crumbling in a fire so hot it weakened rusted iron and steel. A fire I made to defeat Cradle Robber and Tauros--And, well there was that third Gravelord. They were all dead, not in my wildest imagination could I believe even they could survive that fire.


I’m known to be wrong.


“I couldn’t have planned this better,” spoke a voice. This voice set my nerves on edge. The catwalk lurched and swayed as a heavy body landed. Half well-cooked steak, half metal machine, Cradle Robber and Tauros were crispy and burned in the third degree, with some errant flames flickering over their form. By Celestia’s flaming farts, he was hard to kill!


I sat up, getting back to my battered hooves, leaning against the twisted railing for balance.


“Don’t feel so bad,” Cradle Robber spoke, every word came with a billow of smoke. “I’d planned for something similar, but you outdid yourself. You’re your own worst enemy, Steelgraft.”


I don’t know what bothered me more, the fact that he was still alive or that he just called me by my proper name. Preparing for a fight, I snapped off a piece of the railing and brandished it.


“Oh, so cute! Defiant to the end.” He patronized me, grinning all the while. “Tell me, how does it feel to have a bleeding heart? Doesn’t it hurt knowing you can’t protect anyone? You can’t go against your purpose, Steelgraft.” It was the way he said my name, a mocking ring, straining his voice to sound childish.


“Stop your dawdling,” it was the maestro, Organ Grinder, behind me. “Grab him now, he absorbed enough life-force to cause a fuss, don’t let his talisman recharge his battery.” How hard were they to kill? Hard as me, I reckoned.


“How?” I demanded, “How are you both--”


“Alive? Not the proper term.” Cradle Robber rasped.


“Nine generously offered to lend us her portal entre,” Organ Grinder pitched in tersely. “She’s excited that you’ll be returning home soon.” Like Tartarus I was!


On cue, a rift opened on the far end of the catwalk, crackling with electric spiderlegs about its edges. A head popped out, adorned with twin tesla coils and a smile, which vanished from her stitched face as soon as a waft of black smoke curled into her eyes. The deep-red colored unicorn bayed and coughed, then sneezed most adorably before refocusing her eyes, both were bright and curious, though I’d wager there was something insidious attached to her head beyond the portal.


“Eeyuck! This place smells.” She made a sour face, balking and extending her tongue. The number PP-009 was tattooed onto her tongue. An odd place for her mark. He tongue rolled up fast at the sight of me, whacking her in the nose as she bleated out a tumbled jumble of words as she leapt out. There was nothing insidious attached to her(I make a habit of being wrong), she seemed normal, wearing a strapped and buckled outfit of rubber that covered almost every inch of her. Her tesla coils sparks occasionally, causing her messy hair to stand up on end, frizzing out wildly. By the time it settled a few seconds later, another pulse would cause it to spaz out like a million-legged, brown spider.


“Cap’n!” She squealed, rolling forward and falling flat on her face--Or she would have if she hadn’t turned into lightning as she struck the floor, portalling to tackle me. I maintained my balance, swinging my twisted railing bludgeon at the air. “Oh it’s so great to see you! I missed you!” I tried to use the railing as a pry bar to dislodge her.


“Feeling’s not mutual!” I snarled, finally prying her nuzzling face from mine and pushing her off. I swung at her, catching nothing but air as she sunk into the catwalk and repositioned herself with another fast zap of lightning, a confused expression screwing her face up. She gave a twitch. “Four?!” I stated in disbelief, “Four of you? That’s a little unfair!”


“What, did you think we’d come at you one at a time in descending numerical order?” Cradle Robber mocked, giving a sick, rasping laugh. “What do you think this was, a Saturday morning cartoon?”


I stayed silent even though I wanted to naively say ‘yes’.


Nine, as she had been called, let her expression fall to one of sullen concern. She took a step closer, but no further as I poised to strike. “What didja do to him?” She asked, flicking her attention to Cradle Robber and Tauros. Her face scrunched up, “Ugh, what happened to you? You’re all burn’t n’ battered!”


“I did to him what was necessary,” Cradle Robber claimed. Organ Grinder tossed his head into a shake and huffed. The half-corpse ignored the maestro and sneered, “I admit--Even in his cobbled together condition, the Captain was formidable. He surprised me. He won’t surprise me again.”


“It isn’t over until it’s over. If they put you in a corner, own that corner. Make them pay the toll to take that corner from you.” Rainbow Dash, you certainly had sound advice, her pep talks had me going through thick and thin, glad I remembered enough of what she said to keep focused even now.


Cornering me was the last thing they wanted to do, and all this banter was giving my power talisman enough time to recharge my internal battery. After failing to save those three cages worth of survivors, my integrity was at a decent quarter high--It should be higher, but there seemed to be some diminishing returns on life force retainment. My inventory screen was thrown open post haste, options galore positioned betwixt my eyes. Shopping, shopping, window shopping for options.


Access Inventory;
Frag Mine(1)--Weapon--Looks like a salt lick. Coincidence?
Pinkie’s Pie--Weapon--Electrifying flavor! Zap-Apple Deluxe!
Meeting Ponies--Magazine--+10 Speech; A coupon for ‘Cosmare’ is inside


I was down to three items. I’d almost forgotten about the pie, blunt force trauma did wondrous things to short term memory, I tell you. Here’s the challenge; daring escape utilizing a Frag Mine, Magazine, and a Pie, make it work! Rubbing these items together would likely result in a mess--This wasn’t a point and click adventure, afterall. Well, maybe rubbing the frag mine on Cradle Robber’s face would improve the situation. You know, briefly, before my skull left my shoulders from the retaliatory punch of his piston-armed boyfriend.


“Nine, dearest, the Captain has none of the memories of us; those were removed, remember? The mortals wanted him to fight us, afterall.” Organ Grinder flicked his head once more and snorted. “I suggest we take leave through the portal now--Lord Hades would be most unwelcome to waiting.”


“Those morts. How could they tinker with our Cap’n? Turning him against his friends was a bad thing to do.” Nine said in a wholly non-sarcastic and naive fashion. Friends, them? Maybe once, when we were alive, but now I couldn’t remember them. They also ate the living. Bad for the karma.


“Actually, you two go ahead. I’m not quite finished,” Cradle Robber said, his tone not at all suave or endearing. He wasn’t about to wine and dine me, and if they left us alone, I’d need another plunger. Post-coitus snuggles are a requirement for me and he didn’t seem like the snuggly type either.


“You didn’t snuggle with Key” He. Wanted. To. Now is not a good time!


“Are you serious? Succor to ice, it is a gainless endeavor. Need I remind you, Hades will be erasing his memories of this regardless. This is a fool’s errand.” Organ Grinder sounded disgusted.


“What’s he gonna do to Cap’n?” Nine asked, nose still wrinkled. “Yah shouldn’t beat up on him. He’s one of us. It’s not his fault the morts did things to his noggin’!”


Just keep talking, yup, don’t mind me, thinking up a way to slip out of this situation. Fighting my way out wasn’t an option, so that left either swimming through a flaming lake or fast-talking my way to freedom. That magazine would actually come in handy right about now--If I had the time to leaf through it! What, were they just going to let me sit down and leaf through a diplomacy magazine in the middle of a flaming factory? Not likely. Still, there was a ‘use’ option on my menu screen, taunting me. I clicked it.


Auto-Read Enabled. Temporary memory updated with pertinent information. Thankyou for using the Ministry of Arcane Science’s temporary literary distillation and upload system!


The magazine was vaporized from my inventory, in its place knowledge filled my mind with confidence. I knew just what to say to get what I wanted and more, the articles in that particular issue had an advice column with Iron Will, a well known minotaur motivational speaker of my day and era. He answered all the questions with catch phrases followed by brief, succinct explanations. ‘To get what you need--You gotta pay heed--To my excellent advice column!’


“I’m not done until I’ve had my satisfaction!” Cradle Robber argued. “I’ve waited too long for this!” Tauros beat his chest with a grunt, shaking his head. “Not you too! I’m not budging on this, I’m going to humiliate him!” His flustered tone and belligerent attitude was wearing on us all. He didn’t seem well liked, even by his allies.


“But his friends,” Organ Grinder began his rebuttal, “They--”


“Are dead,” Cradle Robber cut him off, “That new Roamer proved too much for them.”


An unexpected turn of events socked me in the gut, draining my confident air. A full-body sensation started at my ears and spread. It was a strange feeling, like frostbite and arthritis. Deadmare don’t feel, but still, it was there. Snippets of the magazine flashed through my mind freshly, like snow in the summer. I hung my head and let the railing drop from my grip, that feeling spread slowly into every corner of my body.


“He could be lying,” said a kind voice. “It could be chocolate milk!” It’s. Always. Mud.


The other two fell silent and Cradle Robber was smiling so viciously I could almost taste it.


“You’re lying!” My voice rang out loudly, over the flames, echoing hard off the smoldering walls. I spoke with force, enough to scatter the smoke and tossle the scant hair on Tauros’s skull. My vocal cords rattled in my gullet. “There’s no way!”


Cradle Robber’s laughter rang out loud, his own voice shooting back with enough force to make the entire catwalk shake. “And where were you?” He asked rhetorically. We both knew where I had been. The half corpse continued, occasionally tapping his hoof against Alice’s black handle protruding from his eye socket as he spoke. “You were here. Away from them. You left them unprotected. And for what? I think we both know.” Cradle gestured to my collar.


Oh Celestia in Asphodel, what had I done? “I had to stop you.”


Cradle Robber smirked. “Yet you failed. You couldn’t save anyone. You couldn’t save your wife, your child, your crew, or your friends!”


“You killed them!” I roared, blind to anything but the beast before me. Possessed by spite, I charged, screaming. BZAP! The scream caught in my throat, coupled with a full body spasm. I flopped like a fish, arcs of lightning dancing around my vision, leading my gaze to a tether between Nine and I. Twin coils zapped the air, syphoning the power straight from my battery. Dry; my icon displayed an empty mug. “What do you mean no Cider?! How could you run out?!” Voices, so many voices, none of them my own.


“Sorry, Cap’n,” Nine said softly, “But I can’t have you fighting us anymore.”


Cradle Robber flashed a broken, twisted grin, watching my worthless body lay prone. “Thank you, Nine, now he’ll be easier to handle,” Cradle Robber chimed pleasantly. “Now where was I? Oh yes, I was gloating at your most spectacular failure!” He coughed into his hoof, clearing his throat of acidic bile and phlegm. He cleared his throat a second time. “Captain, you killed them the same way you killed us. You started the fire.” He pointed at me with both hoof and meaty hand.


I left them all unprotected. I killed them. Me, it was all my fault. My only purpose is failure! I’d failed everypony I ever cared for, betrayed my best friend, Goldenblood, and didn’t save my crew or my new...Were they friends? Yes, they had been something like friends. It may not be wholly true or factual, but it is how I chose to remember them, as friends. If the fires raging below ate me from the hooves up, it’d be only a fraction of what I deserved for letting them down.


“Nine, Organ Grinder, your part in this is done. You may leave.” Cradle Robber said with a shooing motion. This made Nine stomp angrily, giving a pouty little huff you’d expect from a little filly demanding extra sweets.


“Come oooooon, we have stuff tah doooo!” Nine squeaked. “Cap’n needs fixin’ and so do you, mister meany! We can regenerate in Tartarus!”


“If he recovers his stamina as he is, Nine, do you think he wouldn’t take it as an open invitation to cause a ruckus?” Organ Grinder spoke calmly in that airy sophisticated tone. “Tauros is going to blank him first.” The maestro spun on his back wheels and made for the portal. “Don’t you fret, Nine, it only takes a minute. Our captain will soon be back to his old self. Right, Cradle Robber?”


Blanking? Whatever that was, it sounded bad.


“Yes, of course! Don’t doubt me now, my plan has been successful so far!” I had to agree with Cradle Robber, he’d put this together near flawlessly.


“Gangrene, Keena, guys...” I groaned, wanting to see them so badly. I wondered why Keena hadn’t warned them of the Roamer, she may not have been there at the time, so there was a chance she and that filly, Delightful Dirge, were still alive. For now. Even if I could move, the guilt alone would keep me floored.


“See?” Cradle Robber beamed. “Broken. Just like I planned! Hades said his will was resolute! Hah, there’s nopony I can’t break!” He licked his lips. “I’ll toss in some ‘quality assurance’.” He accentuated such words by having Tauros do a pelvic thrust lewdly. “Just to be sure.”


“You disgust me, Cradle.” Organ Grinder spoke, tilting his nose upwards sharply. “I’ll be adding that to the report. Hades will know.” His threat fell on deaf ears, I doubted Cradle Robber cared. The musician trotted to the portal, pausing ever so briefly to give a sudden, ‘oh-hoh’! “Try not to take too long, if you dawdle, you may find yourself out of the frying pan and into the fire.” He offered a final warning before he vanished through the sparking veil.


Nine glowered at Cradle Robber. “You made your point to him. He shoulda never let the morts get to him! Don’t rub it in, you’re just being cruel!”


“Why thankyou,” Cradle Robber grinned. “I do try! Now get going. Unless you want to stay and help me blank him?” Nine shrunk away from the suggestion, her eyes wide. She shook her head hard and fast, making her frizzy ball of mane spark.


“Nu-uh! I don’t wanna see what’s going on in his head,” Nine lightly prodded my cheek with a hoof, “No offense, Cap’n.” None taken, neither of us wanted part of what was happening in my mind.


“Then leave, you’re only in my way.”


“We can take him now, I’ll keep him drained! We don’t have to blank him!” Nine insisted.


“Don’t be so mortish, Nine. Hades ordered him blanked before we take him home.” Mortish as in mortals? That was disheartening, they had a negative slur against mortals and emotional attachment. Par for the course with the Deadmare and their ilk. My ilk.


Enough power returned to move a digit. Then an arm, slowly. Many of my HUD’s functions were inoperable. My temporary memory was filled with all the contents of that useless magazine, Meeting Ponies. “We could use this knowledge to make new friends!” One of the voices unhelpfully suggested. The only thing I found interesting among the articles was Iron Will’s advice column near the back. There was a particular pegasus who asked Iron Will for advice on how to get over the loss of a pet, Iron Will had so helpfully suggested; “Take the pain, make some gain!” Iron Will was very motivating, even on paper, and taking the advice out of context made it applicable to my situation albeit with poor scaling. Pets weren’t as valuable as all the friends you’ve ever known in a new life.


List of things I enjoy? Zero. I enjoy zero things right now.


“That’s an order, Nine.” Cradle put his hoof down hard, shaking the catwalk. “I don’t have time for your childish antics. Keep the portal open like a good lil filly and leave me to my mission.”


Nine’s cheeks flared up with words, puffing out her cheeks. She tossed her head, sputtering out a frustrated groan. “Fine! No blood pudding for you tonight!” The stitched ruddy red mare spun on her hooves and skipped through the portal. Very angry skipping, if you can believe that. Cradle Robber didn’t seem well liked among the throngs of our kind.


Several tense seconds passed, with Cradle staring at the portal as if to challenge anyone who dared to interrupt his task. Finally, content he wouldn’t be bothered he went about the usual fare of a supervillain, starting with gloating, of course. “Alone with you at last--There’s so much I want to talk about--But so little time!” I wondered what I had done to him to inspire so much hate, other than the obvious. The minotaur’s hefty hand seized about my skull and slammed me into the catwalk in the blink of an eye, “Ooops! Sorry, kind of a habit.” Cradle slapped his companion on the horn, “I meant pick him up, not smother him into the grating!”


Tauros mooed, scratching the center of his forehead. His acrid breath washed over my face as he leaned forward. The minotaur seemed discontent.


Stiff as a board, my rigid body refused to move, as if possessed by the grips of ice. Metal buckled and whined, creaking to the rattle of highly pressurized fluid in galvanized hoses. I’d resist now, but my cells were bone dry.


Tauros hefted me by the loosened scruff of my neck.


“If you could work up some tears, that’d be lovely!” Growled the tumor. “A few tears for your little friends? The ones you failed to protect.” That sickly ear to ear bare-fanged grin make me want to vomit. I spat instead.


“Oh...” Cradle Robber muttered, the spit rolling off his mask in fat, stringy globs. “This might do.” He scraped some off his cheek with a hoof. He was pleased with the viscous fluid, rubbing it between his hooves with a disgusting smile. “I’m going to need a LOT more, don’t you think?” Both meaty hands came to bear at either side of my temples, pistons hissing as pressure built to dangerous levels. “Maybe a bit of a squeeze!”


The sound of my skull fracturing was like thunder, muffling all other sound. Sparks and black ichor flowed from splits along my chin and lips, warning icons blared and filled my vision, my integrity was nearing a zero sum. Morosely, the minotaur mooed, studying me with a sullen expression before letting his head droop, soon to be followed by his ears. Poor bastard didn’t seem in the mood, but it was Cradle Robber running the show.


Tauros thumbed my horn, putting an uncomfortable pressure on it. Pain screeched through my body, a near alien sensation. “Do you know what I’m about to do to you?” Cradle Robber asked. The pressure lessened incrementally until I dropped hard to the catwalk, limp and damaged. “Since you’re in no state to ask, I’ll assume you can still hear.” Tauros slathered my fluids between his thick palms, greasing them up with a frothy lather. “I’m going to wipe your memory. You’ll be an empty husk. Don’t worry, your old memories are backed up. Those will be loaded in once we get you home.”


Oh thank goodness, I was worried they’d leave me as a vegetable. Good thing they weren’t leaving it there, no, they were adding in the good ole ‘turn the hero into his old evil self’ gimmick. I strained to move, eliciting only a spasm of muscles and servos. There was no escape, was there? I looked to the edge of the catwalk and the fires below, weighing my chances. The metal beneath me felt weak. Supports were giving way, the whole factory would collapse in on itself in time.


“Do you have any last requests?” Cradle cooed. “I’m a fan of the classics.”


“Yeah, could you kindly bite down on this frag mine after I arm it?” I thought. Not gonna happen. Was there any hope left, any reason to struggle? Was it more noble to fight til the end, enduring the slings and arrows of grand misfortune? Yes. Would going out in a blaze of glory be preferable to joining them? Yes.


“Why?” One word, last request. Just a few seconds and we’d go to oblivion together...


“Why what? That could mean so much! It could mean so little.” A snort left the half corpse and he rolled his head back with a guffaw. “Or it could mean exactly what I want it to mean!” He wrung his hooves together greedily. Cradle Robber conferred with Tauros, “Should we show him?” A brief pause. “I know you want to go home. We’ll go as soon as we’re done.” Another brief pause. Tauros grunted and let out a huff, shaking his head hard. “Don’t get an attitude with me!” A soft moo followed. “Fine, but I know you’re just stalling--” I visibly tensed. “--Tauros, you just don’t want to do anything for me anymore!” A plaintiff moo came soon after, allowing me a sigh of relief. “He won’t remember once Hades gets a hold of him. There’s no harm in it. I want him to remember we were friends once.”


They were too busy with each other to notice me gaining bearings, fiddling with what I had inside my coat. Out of all the junk I had, only one thing was powerful enough tip the scales in a favorable direction, The frag mine. Its one-time use nature was akin to putting all my marbles into one basket.


“That’s not how the saying goes, moron.” The little voice in my head teased. Eggs and marbles were both round, damnit, stop correcting me!


Inconspicuous clicks wound the dial until the proximity mine’s flashing indicator beeped...Oh, this was going to be a blast. One problem, proximity was in the name--Proximity meant ‘close’, as in, personal space, as in within throttling range. A minor problem--the catwalk wouldn’t survive it going off, it’d drop us both into the burning lake. Safety was an aftermarket commodity in the last ditch effort economy.


“We can blank him right after,” Cradle Robber squeed! “We won’t be late!” Tauros ambled over to my mostly prone form and neither took notice of my tampering, assuming I was crawling away. “Where do you think you’re going?” Came a low growl. A cloven hoof came down on me, pinning me to the grating. “You were going to try crawling for the portal? Oh, no, darling, you’re not fooling me!”


Unarmed, the frag mine was as good as a frisbee, and it hadn’t been set. Pinned, I writhed, cursing whatever forces of nature controlled fire, grilling lines like a hot dog (made of hay) in my pelt from this dirty, oily metal grating. Horizontal lines weren’t in this year! Or were they? Did anyone bother with fashion? Was it more fashionable in this day to kill someone’s friends and then rape them over a lake of fire? It was just then I thought of Gangrene wearing autumn colors.


“She was pretty, wasn’t she? Too bad she’s dead. She probably didn’t fancy you as anything more than a quick score.” Cradle Robber probed my thoughts, establishing a connection with me and cementing it. Fat fingers searched my coat, plucking the frag mine out and tossing it to the fire. “I’m in your head. I know everything-- You were going to use that to drop us into the fire.” Cradle tutted, waggling one of Tauros’s fingers to and fro, “Stop trying to be clever, you’re not good at it.”


Damnit, damnit, double damnit! I’d forgotten about our peer-to-peer! I thought he severed it, but I was still broadcasting! That was the only way he could have known. Cradle Robber gripped the knife in his face and wrenched it around, snapping his mask free of his face. It came down in a neat chunk, missing a section where the blade had torn his eye.


“You’re predictable,” The stallion said, jiggling the handle as the blade eschewed acid and black blood from a gaping socket. “You always have a trick or surprise.” The zebra stallion lowered his hoof, dropping Alice to the grating with a clatter. “I have a surprise of my own...” His face, what still remained of it, I recognized! He was from the portrait of my crewmates, the zebra standing next to the minotaur! Those honey-gold stripes!


I stared at his face studiously. His name danced on the tip of my tongue, but it flagged with only broken syllables. “Buh-wuh-fbrrt?!”


“You recognize me, but let us be certain you remember,” the zebra said softly, holding me still as he held me in a cold gaze, roughly stripping the bandages from my face. Tauros raised his hand, slick with my juices. He held it over my face as Cradle Grinned. “I’ll get inside you--One way or the other,” he cackled as the center of the minotaur’s palm split open, extruding a coupling that seized onto my horn and locked into the retaining bolt with a whurr. The fit was tight, lubed by my black blood, and the pressure made me claustrophobic. A second diode swung down over my iSeeU, taking a retinal scan.


iSeeU Access Granted
Hoofshaking peer-to-peer
Temporary memory compiled...100%
*Temporary files purged...
--Compiling short term memory...5%


“You like history, don’t you?” I heard his voice drifting away as the world fell into darkness, escorted by his soft, rolling laughter.


“Oh, wow, this has been a great chapter! Top notch! Not only did you get everyone killed, achieving a total party wipe, but you managed to empty your inventory of all useful items! All that’s left is that pie, erroneously named as a weapon. Whatever are you even going to use that pie for? Are you going to give him diabetes? What table do I roll on for that? Does it deal constitution damage within the first thirty years?”


“Oh, what was that? You wanted some Exp? I don’t think Exp works that way. You don’t get rewarded for abysmal failure! Wahahaha! Oh, you’re just precious!”--”Wait, what? You...Completed two quests? FINE! You do get some exp! Let’s just get you leveled up...Once you exit combat. Oh, you forgot? You can’t level up while in combat!”

Character Progress Review


O’ Captain, My Captain BY WALT WHITMAN--Used without permission

Author's Note:

Sorry for the long delay, I just moved to Ohio! I am now stuck in Ohio.

I work 7 days a week at an industrial facility! It is very draining. I hope to let you all know that chapters will be done on a more regular basis now! This arc is nearing completion and the next arc takes place in the Western Quadrant where griffons are a'plenty! I look forward to writing more chapters!

A shout out to my editors and my boyfriend! Thanks for making all this possible!